Chapter thirteen: The snake
Over the following days, I find that ‘tell her’ is far easier said than done. Not only is it hard to find times when neither of us is busy.
I also have no idea where I should start.
And then of course there are the doubts.
What if she hates me when she finds out?
What if she’s afraid of me?
“Hui where did you put the rice paddle?” Himowa calls from the kitchen.
“I don’t remember.”
“Well, could you help me look?”
“I’m kind of busy right now.”
“Oh…okay.” Himowa rolls her eyes at me before retreating back into the kitchen and closing the door behind herself.
I know I’m avoiding her.
I know that’s bad, but what am I supposed to tell her? ‘ Sorry to bother but your yaye thinks I should tell you about my tragic backstory? ‘I don’t even get why, it’s not like she has anything to do with it.
I have a new life now, a better life and as long as I can get my siblings to stay out of Shiwaso, Himowa never has to know.
“Found the rice paddle! You left it in the sink!” Himowa yells from the kitchen.
“Sorry about that.”
“Yeah sure.” She huffs and closes the door.
I made her angry.
I can’t really blame her either.
I get back to stocking with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
It nags at me as I empty the boxes.
It tugs at me as I put the crates on the side of the street.
I should go and apologize, at the very least for being distant. At least until I figure out what I’m supposed to tell her for real.
I drag myself to the kitchen.
“Ah Hui, perfect timing.” Yobu tells me cheerfully “I need these dishes clean before the evening rush. Himowa is boiling water. If you work together you’ll be done twice as quickly.”
I squint my eyes at him “I know what you’re driving at old man.”
“Great, then you’ll know what to do. I’ll be keeping an eye on the guests.”
He walks out. I sigh and tie my sleeves above my elbows. Knowing Himowa I’ll be doing the washing while she dries.
I scrape some soap flakes off the block and toss them in the washing tub. Then wait.
Himowa kicks down the door and steam fills the kitchen.
“Hui? What are you doing here?”
“Helping with the dishes.”
“Really? I thought you were busy…”
“Sorry about that.”
She shrugs in reply, then fills up the tub. “You washing or drying.”
“All right.” She pulls a towel from the shelf.
I add cold water to the tub until it’s safe to touch, then start by washing up the cups.
We work together in silence.
I want her to stop looking at me like I’m hiding something.
She’s not supposed to know that.
The water grows cold as time drags on. We barely made a dent in the tower of dishes.
I pick up the kettle to pour more hot water but it slips from my soapy hands. It comes down on the floor with a crash. Himowa yelps in shock.
I grab at my clothes as the boiling hot water splashes over me. I tear off my robe and quickly turn away from the girl in modesty.
“Hui, what happened to you?” Himowa asks as she hands me a moist towel to cool the burn.
“My hands were slippery, I should have dried them first.”
“I’m talking about this.” She draws a line on my back and for a second I wonder why it feels weirdly numb. Then I remember the time I made a fool of Hashiro in front of his friends and he threw a bottle at me. I managed to turn around in time, but I couldn’t run fast enough to avoid it.
I guess that’s as good an angle as any, at least this way I didn’t have to bring it up myself.
“Let’s just say my family is a lot of things, but functional is not one of them.”
Inside the restaurant, things keep going like normal. I expected Yobu and Himowa to treat me differently upon finding out where I came from but they make me work just as hard as usual.
It’s comforting in a way, but it also worries me.
The old man keeps assuring us that things will be okay, but I think he’s saying it more to convince himself rather than us.
Knowing I’m the reason he’s in that situation makes me nauseous but Yobu refuses to acknowledge any attempt at resignation and I keep coming in for work anyway.
This is why I need to talk to whoever’s in charge and get them to quit the madness.
I open the door to my room when and find with a start the lights are still on.
“Hello, little Go” The woman sitting on my ramshackle couch has a red sheen to her dark hair and long red nails that I can almost feel crawling up my back as she speaks. Two men with large guns stand on either side of her, weapons aiming down for now.
“Are you in charge of district seven?” I ask trying very hard to keep my cool.
“Indeed I am, my name is Failao.” She directs her slender hand to the couch “Please sit down.”
I pretend she did not just offer me a seat in my own house as I sit down across from her. A quick glance over the scratched coffee table reveals a dark blue box with pastel-coloured sweets inside.
“I know its rude to barge in somewhere empty-handed so I brought wuwu” Her voice is sweet like syrup.
I pull up my nose “No thank you”
“Not even if I promise you they’re not poisoned?” She asks and I can’t shake the association of a tempting snake.
“I’m not a fan of sweet stuff.”
“She huffs, Hashiro’s right you do lack respect.” Her nose crinkles as she speaks “All right, suit yourself.” she picks the pink one from the box, her nails sinking slowly into the squishy texture before popping it into her mouth. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Is that the hairdresser’s?”
There’s no way in hell she doesn’t know each and every business in her district by heart. But if I want to get her to listen, I feel like I must play the game “Restaurant”
“You’re trying to run him out of business to spite me.”
Her smile widens as she wags a long, lean finger at me “Nuh-uh- uh, your brother is trying to run him out of business to spite you. I’m just lounging in the middle and enjoying the extra money.”
“You’re willing to ruin one of your providers just to make Hashiro happy?”
She shrugs “Businesses fall all the time and they never stand empty for long.”
“This is why I dislike the Kashuya, you treat people’s lives like pawns in a game.”
“And yet you try to win with no pawns on the board. So to speak, of course.” She takes another sweet.
“I’d rather have no pawns on the board than be someone else’s.”
She pauses, holding the wuwu in front of her mouth “Excuse me?”
“You know, how you take care of Hashiro’s dirty work.”
“You have a small mind and an insolate tongue, little Go. I only follow his plan because it benefits me.”
“And what if you were to stop? Would Hashiro come after you?”
“I’m not intimidated by any Go children.” There’s a warning in her voice as she speaks “Also if you want me to stop increasing the old man’s rates it’s good form to offer something in return.”
“What do you want?”
“I like money and lots of it but looking around I’m not sure you can give me that.”
“How much would be enough to make you stop?” if we can scrape that together it would be better in the long run.
“Oh I dunno, I feel in a generous mood, seven hundred chui perhaps?”
The woman raises her eyebrows in surprised delight “The kid knows how to haggle, very well, six hundred.”
“Five fifty and not a chui less.”
“Excellent, if you can give me that on top of the old man’s protection money I’ll start giving him the same rates as the rest of the street.”
“How will I give it to you?”
“Just give it to the courier who comes by for the protection money each month. The earliest is in two weeks’ time and obviously the longer you wait for the longer your boss will suffer the increases so I’d get to it little Go.”
“Well, I’ll be off then.” She swoops the box of wuwu up and heads to the door. The guards circle around her as she walks “You know little Go, your heart’s in the right place, but once your grace-years run out that mouth of yours will bring you in much more trouble than you can manage by yourself.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I doubt it, but don’t come crying to me when it all falls down.”
She leaves and I drop down on the couch exhausted. Five hundred fifty chui on top of the usual payments, how on earth am I to collect that much cash?
I start, jump up when the shadow next to the cupboard starts to move, then relax again when I see it’s just Takeyo.
He sits down next to me “Remember that time I offered to loan you some money, it still stands you know? If you want we can end this right now.”
I open my mouth to insult him, then think better of it and close it again.
“Not yet… but thanks for the offer.”
He puts a hand on my shoulder, then gets up again “I’ll see you around.”
And then I’m alone.